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U.S. Sen. Bob Corker

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said he's talked at length over the phone with Donald Trump about foreign policy and thinks Trump's recent speech on the topic was "a really important step in a good direction."

Corker, R-Tenn., said Thursday he hasn't seen much substantive debate between candidates thus far, and he appreciates how Trump is bringing realism and maturity to the foreign policy conversation.

Speaking at the Chattanooga Downtown Rotary Club, Corker would not say what he'd do if asked to join the presidential ticket. He said he cherishes the work he is doing now as chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, but added that if asked, he'd consider the impact he could have in the post.

Corker reminded those in the crowd that they have been a part of charting the course of this year's election.

"Things have turned out differently than people anticipated because voters like you across the country decided that things would turn out differently," Corker said.

He urged those gathered to demand that the presidential candidates discuss their plans to deal with the country's debt, the economic situation and how the nation is going to relate around the world.

Corker said candidates will not bring up the financial system on their own, but called it the "No. 1 threat to our nation's future." He called what he and fellow senators do on the budget committee "a total hoax," saying about 75 percent of the budget each year is distributed on "autopilot."

"It's a joke," Corker said.

He hopes this presidential race will provide a path allowing the country to move forward, specifically citing the need for reform in the country's entitlement program.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said Trump was not his first choice for president, but voters have the right to choose and he will support the Republican presidential nominee.

"My focus will be on keeping a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate so we can do more things like the law we passed fixing No Child Left Behind, which was the largest transfer of power from Washington to the states in the last 25 years," Alexander said in a statement.

When Corker was asked by the Times Free Press after the meeting if Trump can unite the GOP, he was quick to point out how there is a lack of unity on both sides of the aisle.

"It's been kind of mano-a-mano on the Democratic side for so long and you almost look at that as a bigger divide," he said. "It will be interesting how voters migrate on both sides of the aisle."

He said both campaign trails leading up to the Republican and Democratic nominations have taken unexpected courses, saying not many anticipated Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders would last this long.

Corker said he's known Sanders for a long time, and the things he is saying now are things he's believed for decades.

"What he's saying on the campaign trail I've been hearing him say for nine years and three months on the Senate floor," Corker said. "These are not things he concocted for a presidential race. This is him in a heartfelt manner."

When asked if he wished he had run for the Republican nomination, Corker said he does not regret staying out of the presidential race.

"This year was not the right time for a person like me," he said, and reiterated that he plans to support whoever is chosen as the Republican nominee.

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at kendi.anderson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow on twitter @kendi_and.

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